A 31-year-old man died on Sunday in New York City's Rikers Island jail complex, prompting the immediate firing of a correction officer involved. The man, Elijah Muhammad, had been held at the complex since June on an assault charge, the New York Times reports.. Details of what led to his death — the 10th this year in city jail custody— were not immediately available. Correction Department Commissioner Louis Molina said an initial review showed the need for “immediate action against the staff involved,” including the officer who was fired. A person familiar with the incident said that the officer had not done his job properly, adding that the department was looking into whether the officer failed to intervene when Muhammad was in the throes of a drug overdose, among other things.
It is rare for a correction officer to be fired so soon after a detainee’s death; fatal incidents have become a regular occurrence over the past two years in a jail complex awash in chaos and disorder. The fired employee was still on probation after having been hired recently and was not entitled to the protections given tenured members of the correction officers’ union. The death, and the swift disciplinary action that stemmed from it, came as city officials were resisting calls for a federal court takeover of the jail complex, where an inability to staff the jails during the coronavirus pandemic has left gang members in control of some housing areas and forced some detainees to go without food or health care. Muhammad’s death was only the latest in what is shaping up to be another deadly year in the jail system. Last month, a week after a federal judge forestalled a federal takeover, three detainees died in three days.